House of Commons
Monday 23 October 2017
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU: Defence Co-operation
Our foreign policy, defence and development paper set out our ambition for a strong partnership when we leave the European Union. We are unconditionally committed to European security, and we will work closely with our European partners to defend our shared values and to confront shared threats. Our long-standing commitment to NATO nuclear deterrence remains the ultimate guarantee of our security.
The UK is leaving the EU and the single market just when the EU is providing large funds for co-operation on procurement, and research and development. Will the Secretary of State ensure that the UK defence industry has continued access to EU projects and to co-operation with the European defence sector?
That is exactly what we will try to ensure, as we set out in the paper that was published a few weeks ago. We want our defence companies to stay close to the European Defence Agency and other collaborative programmes on the continent, a number of which are in shared ownership with companies in Europe.
RM Condor in my neighbouring constituency has played a key role in defence co-operation with both EU and non-EU allies. In recent months, however, cuts have created uncertainty about the very future of the base, which has caused great concern to many of my constituents who work and serve at the base and their families. Does the Secretary of State agree that this not only sends entirely the wrong message about our commitment to our allies, including the European Union, but will strike at the heart of our community, which has a long history with this base?
I have visited the Condor base, and I reassure the hon. Gentleman that, although we are looking hard at the future use of its airfield, the base itself will not be affected. The Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), who has direct responsibility for basing matters, is happy to talk to him in more detail.
Whether or not Britain is part of the European Union, bilateral defence co-operation with our allies is important at any time. Will the Secretary of State comment on progress on the Lancaster House agreement? That seems such a sensible arrangement to have with a country with similar defence forces and a similar world view.
In the past few months I have had meetings with my counterparts in Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, France, Italy and Romania, and I have received inward visits from my counterparts from Croatia, the Netherlands and Poland. The Lancaster House framework is the most important of all our relationships with other members of the European Union, and I assure my right hon. Friend that when I meet the French Minister, Madame Parly, next month, we will discuss how we take work under that agreement further forward.
Britain had close working defence relationships with all European countries for decades before the EU was even invented, and for centuries before that with many of them. Does the Secretary of State agree that although we will of course maintain close defence relationships with France, Germany and other European countries, Brexit gives us an opportunity to redevelop some of our defence relationships across the world—with the old Commonwealth and the United States of America, and of course with NATO being at the centre of it all?
Brexit, of course, gives us the opportunity to look again at our global role. We currently contribute to more than a dozen common security and defence policy missions and operations organised by the European Union, and it is important that from outside the European Union we continue, where we can, to consider how we can further contribute to European security, as well as to the global role about which my hon. Friend and I agree.
I am sure that the Secretary of State agrees that our defence industry needs certainty and stability from the Government so that it can plan its operations appropriately, but the Opposition believe that the Government’s dogged insistence on dragging us out of the customs union and the single market during the transition period is having the opposite effect. Is it not time that we put the interests of our economy first, including the defence sector, rather than the interests of a minority of Tory Back Benchers, by retaining our membership of the single market and customs union for a time-limited period as we leave the EU?
As we leave the European Union, we have to leave the single market and the customs union. Our paper on the foreign policy and defence partnership we seek after we leave the European Union makes it clear that we continue to seek the closest possible co-operation between our defence industry and the defence industries of the continent.
My right hon. Friend has already referred to global reach. Given that the United Kingdom probably has a greater capability with that than any armed forces in Europe, is there not a common feeling between the Europeans and the United Kingdom that we could co-operate in future for our mutual defence?
Yes. Our 2015 strategic defence and security review made it clear that our defence posture will be international by design—we will increasingly be working more closely with our friends and allies around the world. We saw evidence of that co-operation when dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, for example.
Crucial to our relationship with EU and non-EU allies is the work of the Royal Marines in northern Europe. The fears that we have heard elsewhere about the future of HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, which are key components of the UK-Netherlands amphibious force, are not being felt only on these shores, and the same is true of the decision earlier this summer to cancel the vital winter training in Norway. What assurances does the Secretary of State have today for our allies in northern Europe that those programmes are not in danger?
I think that was a response rather than an answer. I am grateful for what the Secretary of State said to my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) about the base at Arbroath, but will he tell us a bit more about his plans for the airfield so that those crucial partners in Europe know more about it, as well as my hon. Friend’s constituents?
We are looking again at a large number of the airfields that we are not making full use of at the moment to determine whether they can be released for other use in a number of parts of this country, which would give us an opportunity for the new housing that we need. The Royal Marine base at Condor is part of that review, and I have said that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East, who is responsible for basing, is very happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman and to the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) about the future development of that airfield.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that Members all have a responsibility when it comes to speculation? We could speculate about anything at all, but we are talking about people’s lives and jobs, so we should base our debate around facts, not a political agenda.
I agree with my hon. Friend; there has been quite enough speculation and scaremongering, not least among Opposition Members. The threats to our country have intensified since the 2015 review, so the National Security Adviser is conducting a specific capabilities review to make sure that we are implementing the 2015 review in the best possible way to give us the impact we need from our re-equipment programme.
I have regular discussions with the Chancellor. The Government are committed to spending at least 2% of GDP on defence and to growing the defence budget by at least 0.5% above inflation every year of this Parliament. The defence budget will therefore rise from £36 billion this year to almost £40 billion by 2020-21.
If Opposition Members were really concerned about jobs at BAE Systems, they would get behind our export campaigns for Typhoon and Hawk aircraft, rather than undermining them by criticising potential customers. When I saw the chairman of BAE Systems last week, I reassured him that we wanted to continue to work with the company. I have emphasised the importance of keeping production lines open, should new orders for Typhoons and Hawks materialise, and of staying on track in developing RAF Marham for the arrival of the F-35.
Does the Secretary of State recall that several years after we took the peace dividend, in the mid-1990s, we were still spending 3% of GDP on defence? Will he assure us that no inadequacy in the defence budget will lead to the loss of HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, which are scheduled to leave service in 2033 and 2034, as the defence procurement Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), wrote to the Defence Committee to say only in January?
On the latter point, I have referred to the purpose of the capabilities review, which is simply to make sure that the equipment programme that we set out in 2015 is on track and is spending our money in the best possible way to deal with the threats, which have intensified since then. On the first point, about finance, the defence budget was £34 billion when I became Defence Secretary. It is £36 billion today and it will reach £40 billion by 2020.
We have heard that a Tory rebellion is growing over next month’s Budget, with half the Cabinet determined to sack the Chancellor because they are convinced that they can do a better job themselves. There is even speculation that the loyal Defence Secretary might be about to launch his own offensive on No. 11.
On a more serious matter, most of the Tory manifesto has already bitten the dust, so I was pleased that the Secretary of State seemed to be very confident about the commitment to a 0.5% year-on-year increase in defence spending. Will he give us a categorical assurance that there will be no fiddling of the figures, as we have seen with the NATO commitment on spending 2% of GDP?
I am not sure whether the hon. Lady’s first point was a reference to speculation or scaremongering, but it is good to hear from her after she was gagged at the Labour party conference and not given any kind of speaking slot.
I can reassure the hon. Lady that our manifesto commitment to increasing the defence budget by at least 0.5% ahead of inflation is an absolute commitment and that we will stand by it. As for what is classified as 2% spending for the purposes of the NATO return, that is entirely a matter for NATO to decide.
The reality is that the Government’s chaotic mismanagement has led to gaping holes in the MOD’s budget. As we have heard, there is real concern about cuts to our amphibious capabilities. Will the Secretary of State say categorically that there will be absolutely no cuts to the Royal Marines?
The Royal Marines are part of the Royal Navy. With the latest Astute submarine, Audacious, launching back in the spring, the steel cut in July on HMS Glasgow, the first of our new frigates, the sailing of HMS Queen Elizabeth, and the naming of HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Forth and HMS Medway, nobody should be in any doubt that this year has seen the Royal Navy growing in power and numbers.
We hear discussion of defence budgets, but would it not be worth our also focusing on what the armed forces achieve for the United Kingdom? Through their soft influence, ships visits and training establishments, are they not fundamentally part of our foreign policy and integrated defence?
I note that the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) appears to be powered by wires. If he is subject to some sort of exterior propulsion, he may be setting a precedent for Chairs of Select Committees. We are very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, I feel sure—his attire will be closely followed in the future.
Strategic Defence and Security Review
Since SDSR 2015, we have cut steel on the first Type 26 and signed the contract to buy new Apache helicopters. We are on track to deliver by the end of 2020: initial operating capability for carrier strike; maritime patrol aircraft; and to field Ajax. We have launched our innovation initiative, and published both our shipbuilding and our international defence engagement strategies.
HMS Bulwark helped to evacuate 1,300 British citizens from Lebanon during the 2006 crisis. Given the Foreign Office’s recent problems evacuating citizens caught up in Hurricane Irma, will the Minister argue for his Department or the Department for International Development to lead on future evacuations? Will he guarantee today that the Government will maintain the fleet’s littoral capacity, which is currently provided by HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion?
One of this Government’s strengths is in how we successfully work together between Departments. We saw the comprehensive approach working very effectively during recent weeks in the cross-Government response to Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean. That is exactly the approach we should be taking.
SDSR 2015 aimed for at least 10% of our armed forces personnel to be from a black, Asian and minority ethnic background. Latest figures show that just 2.4% of regular officers are from a BAME background and that there are currently no BAME officers at a two-star rank or above. When will Ministers publish a new diversity strategy to get to grips with that challenge?
The hon. Gentleman is quite right that Britain is changing, and it is very important that our armed forces represent modern Britain. There is a very impressive strategy in place in which—he is quite right—the target is for 10% of recruits to be from the BAME community and 15% to be women. We have had varying success across our three forces. The Royal Air Force is doing the best by far but, year on year, we are seeing improvements, and I am determined that we shall continue to recruit role models to help this process.
By 2020, the commitments set out in SDSR 2015 will be funded by a defence budget totalling a record £40 billion. The Government’s welcome commitment to spending 2% of our economy on defence is the minimum NATO requirement. Is the Government’s welcome commitment to that rubbing off on our fellow NATO counterparts?
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Indeed, we are committed to spending at least 2% and I am delighted that we continue to do that. Slowly but surely, we are getting this message across to our NATO allies. Although only a minority of them do spend 2%, we are conscious that the direction of travel is positive.
Shipbuilding/Type 31e Frigate
We published our national shipbuilding strategy in September. The very next day, we launched the programme for five new Type 31e frigates. We are currently considering at least 20 different proposals from industry across the UK.
I thank the Minister for her response. It is fantastic news that the national shipbuilding strategy will benefit the whole United Kingdom. Cornwall has a long and proud history with the sea. HMS Cornwall was decommissioned in June 2011. I urge her to take a bid from Cornwall to put, once again, Cornwall back on the waves.
My hon. Friend is an absolute champion for his county of Cornwall. He will be aware that we have started to announce the names of the Type 26 frigates with HMS Glasgow and HMS Belfast. Further names will be announced in due course. The Type 31e frigate will be named by the Royal Navy Ships Names and Badges Committee, and he has set out his claim today.
The strategy announced by the Secretary of State will provide many opportunities for the supply chain, including for companies such as GE Energy in my constituency, which is currently working on the first batch of the Type 26—the global combat ship. Will the Minister say something about the timetable for the second batch of those vessels?
My hon. Friend highlights the importance of the supply chain right across the UK and the fact that, in a relatively landlocked part of the UK, so much work is pouring in from the frigate programme. We announced a £3.7 billion first batch of Type 26 frigates. We will be securing the necessary approvals to carry on negotiations for that contract and we will announce the second batch of five frigates early in the 2020s.
I am delighted to let the House know that UK steel was represented at the first of the industry days that we held for the Type 31e frigate at the end of September. Its involvement at that very early stage ensures that it has the best chance of winning these competitions.
How does the Minister respond to suggestions from trade unions on the Clyde that the promises made to them have been broken by the Ministry of Defence, and will the Government change their illogical decision to put three fleet support ships out to international competition? Should they not be built in the UK, too?
Well, honestly, every time I talk about our wonderful programme of shipbuilding in the UK, I hear nothing but doom and gloom from our friends on the Scottish nationalist Benches. In fact—and no one would believe this—there are currently 15 ships being built in Scotland, including the second of the two new aircraft carriers, two decades-worth of work on the frigate programme and five new offshore patrol vessels. Frankly, I do not know what I could do to keep these gentlemen and ladies happy.
We are making significant progress. In Syria, Raqqa was freed from Daesh’s control on Friday. In Iraq, Mosul was liberated in July, and Tal Afar and Hawija followed very quickly thereafter. RAF strikes will continue against terrorist targets until they have been defeated in both Iraq and Syria. Only by pursuing this campaign can we help to reduce the terrorist threat to us here in Europe.
This campaign will evolve as coalition forces destroy and degrade Daesh strongholds in Syria and across the middle east. There are reports of Daesh activity in Libya. What plans does the Secretary of State have to ensure that when Daesh is defeated in one area, it does not have a resurgence in another?
We are working with the international coalition. We will be meeting as coalition Defence Ministers in a few weeks’ time in Brussels to ensure that there is no emergence of Daesh in Libya or in other countries. So far as Libya itself is concerned, we are supporting the United Nations plan under the special representative of the Secretary-General, Ghassan Salamé.
When the then Prime Minister asked this House to approve airstrikes in November 2015, he described Raqqa as
“the head of the snake”—[Official Report, 26 November 2015; Vol. 602, c. 1531.]
Now that the snake has apparently been beheaded, how long would the Secretary of State envisage the RAF staying in the region? And why on earth, after three opportunities, have the Government not made a statement to the House about this major development?
There are regular reports to the House by myself, the Foreign Secretary and the International Development Secretary in a cycle of reporting and updating on the campaign in Iraq and Syria. I briefed Members of Parliament—I think the hon. Gentleman was present—at the Ministry last week.
The campaign is now changing, following the liberation of Raqqa and Mosul. British forces will be training further forward and are providing appropriate force protection for our personnel in and around coalition bases. I have today authorised the deployment of additional medical personnel to al-Asad air base, and extended the deployment of British engineers there for a further six months.
It is important that we keep up the fight against Daesh until it has been pushed right up to the Syrian border in Iraq and defeated there, and that we then begin the process of stabilisation and reconciliation in the provinces of Anbar and Nineveh to ensure that all those people—Sunni and Shi’a—realise that they have a stake in the future security of Iraq.
The Labour party has long called for an operational service medal for our personnel on Operation Shader, so we welcome last month’s announcement. The Secretary of State has rightly acknowledged that the changing nature of warfare requires changing the criteria for how we award medals. Does he have any plans to review the process, and when might that review be published?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome for an Operation Shader medal, which we hope to start issuing next year. It will rightly recognise the contribution made, over three years now, by our servicemen and women in this very important campaign against the evil of our time. I have already commented publicly about the current criteria, which require both “risk and rigour” to have been undergone before service personnel are eligible for a medal. The nature of warfare is changing, so we are having another look at those criteria.
One consequence of the success of the operations against Daesh has been the dispersal of many of its volunteers, including United Kingdom citizens. Yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), who is a Minister of State at the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development, said that, as far as UK citizens who had served in ISIS were concerned, the only thing to do, with one or two exceptions, was to kill them. Is that now Government policy?
My hon. Friend and I have made it clear that those who travel to fight with Daesh in Iraq or Syria will have been committing a criminal offence. Daesh is a proscribed organisation, and we have to make sure that if these people ever do return from Iraq and Syria, they do not pose a future threat to our national security. However, they have made their choice: they have chosen to fight for an organisation that uses terror and the murder of civilians as a modus operandi.
We are committed to maintaining the overall size of the armed forces, including an Army that is able to field a war-fighting division. While Army recruitment and retention remain challenging, over 8,000 people joined the regular Army last year and since April applications are over 20% higher compared with the same period last year.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but in the year I was born—1989—the Regular Army’s strength was 140,000. In 2006, when I joined the Territorials, it was 102,000. Yet, in recent years, we have seen the Army fall below a regular strength of 82,000—the Government’s stated target—to only 80,000, and that includes a 40% fall in the armoured strength of the Army. Does the Minister not accept that this is an unacceptable degradation of British Army strength?
No, I do not. It is important to note that the Army is currently 95% manned. I do accept that there are challenges. Having probably the highest employment rate we have had in recent years does not help when it comes to recruiting to the Army. There is also, as we discussed earlier, the changing nature of Britain, which means we have to fight harder to make sure that all parts of society will join the Army. However, this is also about the offer, and I must say that when the Leader of the Opposition says he cannot see a situation where he would deploy the Army overseas, that is hardly a good recruiting tool to get young people who want to join the Army to do exactly that.
The latest figures show that the Army is running at 6% under the number of personnel needed, with the gap growing. How understaffed do we need to be before the Secretary of State will put pressure on the Chancellor to lift the 1% pay cap to boost recruitment?
The Army, as I say, is 95% recruited and quite capable of fulfilling all its commitments. I am pleased there will be some flexibility in how we apply pay—of course, we have the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, which sets it. It is important to have some flexibility so that we can attract people into the skill sets we are currently short of.
Of course, those are just some of the questions we are considering under the ongoing national security capability review, the purpose of which is to decide how best we can use the money we are investing in our armed forces to maximise their capability.
HMS Queen Elizabeth
HMS Queen Elizabeth sailed from Rosyth in June to commence her sea trials. She made her first entry into Portsmouth in August for a scheduled engineering period. Her second set of sea trials should begin this week, weather permitting. She remains on track to be accepted into the Royal Navy this year.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that, as well as projecting global Britain’s power for the next 50 years, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales will provide long-term skilled job opportunities and training for people in Portsmouth and its neighbouring constituencies such as mine?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that this is not only about the 10,000 people who have worked on getting the ship to the point where she is now, but about long-term sustainment over the next 50 years. May I take this opportunity, Mr Speaker, to put on record my appreciation to the Fareham company Boskalis Westminster Ltd, which did a lot of the dredging of Portsmouth harbour?
I am pleased to be able to update the hon. Gentleman. As he will know, we already have 12 F-35 aircraft and they are already flying in the US. We will have 14 by the end of the year. Next year, we are on track to stand up the first squadron in the UK. I am pleased that I was able to announce last week that the F-35 has successfully completed the trials on the ski jump in the US and is now cleared to take off from the carrier.
Armed Forces: Pay
Following the recession, there has been a requirement for fiscal responsibility to manage the deficit, but today we need to balance protecting jobs in the public sector, being fair to public sector workers and, of course, being fair to taxpayers who pay for it. Armed forces pay rates are recommended by the independent Armed Forces Pay Review Body. We look forward to receiving its next set of recommendations for 2018-19.
The Government are fond of saying that they value our armed forces personnel, yet back in June every Minister and every Cabinet member, including the Defence Secretary himself, voted against lifting the public sector pay cap for our armed forces. Is this not proof that their commitment to our brave men and women is only skin-deep?
The Opposition have a habit of spending money that they do not have. We need to take various things into consideration. Much as we would like to move forward with breaking the 1% pay cap, we have to bear in mind that the Armed Forces Pay Review Body takes into consideration banded progressive pay, subsidised accommodation, a range of allowances—including the X factor, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be aware of—and the basic salary, which remains competitive, as well as comparisons with the private sector. It is for the Armed Forces Pay Review Body to make its decisions, and we look forward to that.
In spite of increases in accommodation costs and cuts to tax credits, the Government have slashed the starting pay of an Army private by over £1,000 in real terms. This is no way to treat our loyal armed forces, and it will do nothing to resolve the crisis in recruitment and retention. Will the Government now change their priorities, stop thinking about the £2.5 billion tax giveaway they are giving to the big companies and the wealthy, and commit to freeing up the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, so that it is not constrained by the 1% pay cap, allowing it to give a proper pay rise to our armed forces personnel?
I am not sure where the hon. Lady has been, but there is now that flexibility. There is no longer the pressure to remain within the 1%—it has been removed. I wish that her enthusiasm for the armed forces would rub off on the Leader of the Opposition, who has no support or respect for the armed forces, and no respect for NATO, and wants to get rid of our nuclear deterrent.
Armed Forces: Mental Health
We must recognise that historically mental health has not received the same attention as physical wellbeing. I am therefore pleased that in July we published our new mental health and wellbeing strategy, which comprehensively addresses this. I hope that that will lead to a cultural change in challenging the stigma and improving the mental fitness of our armed forces personnel and, indeed, their families.
I am grateful to the Minister for those comments. Does he agree that it is important not only that we provide better treatment for our veterans, but that the public appreciate that the vast majority of veterans who leave the armed forces do so all the better for having served, rather than as damaged individuals?
My hon. Friend makes such an important point. I think that the whole House respects and reveres our armed forces, but we need to bury the myth that someone who joins the armed forces is more likely to have mental health problems, more likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder and more likely to commit suicide than the general population. That is absolutely not the case. We have 2.5 million veterans in this country, and 15,000 leave every single year. Of those, 90% get into jobs or education within six months. Of course some of them, through no fault of their own, require support, and we need to make sure that we provide it.
I am pleased to say that this was a manifesto commitment. We need to recognise that it is not just the MOD that looks after our veterans’ interests; that happens across Whitehall. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be chairing the first meeting of the board on Thursday.
My hon. Friend asks about the covenant, which is very important even though it is in its infancy. It encourages businesses to employ veterans and allow reservists to go on their training, and it provides deals for regular members of the armed forces.
The Veterans Welfare Service is committed to enhancing veterans’ quality of life, and its main objective is the efficient delivery of core services. My constituent, Scott Garthley, has had a very different experience, with his records failing to display his veteran status and with the loss of his national insurance payment records. Will the Minister meet my constituent to discuss these matters?
I make it clear that if any hon. Member has such a situation, I would be more than delighted to make sure that we understand what support can be provided. That is the duty of this House, the MOD and the nation. Working out which way to turn can be confusing. There are 450 charities out there, and the Veterans Gateway programme, which was launched this July, provides that support. I would be more than delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman.
I am very worried about the complacency in the Minister’s answers. Why is it that Crisis and so many other charities that work with homeless people and people who are sleeping rough find that a huge percentage of them are ex-military personnel? What are we doing about it?
That is another example of a myth that we need to bust. I pay tribute to the local authorities and the charities that are doing their work. Where we are failing, if we are failing, is in not communicating where the support for our brave veterans is. That is something that we all need to work towards.
The tremendous work of RFA Mounts Bay last month in the Caribbean in response to Hurricane Irma demonstrated the versatility of amphibious ships in the Royal Navy.
It did indeed, but people in County Durham will be very alarmed that there appears to be a question mark over the future of HMS Bulwark. She is one of the newest amphibious ships; she has been the fleet flagship; and she has been used to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean. Surely, would not a decision to decommission her early be a false economy?
I, too, have read the speculation in the press, and it is just that. As we have discussed at Defence questions today, a national security and capability review is taking place. It is very important that we have that review, which is about trying to bring together our capabilities with our investment. Equally, the hon. Lady will recognise that, while that capability review is ongoing, it would be entirely inappropriate for me to pluck out individual capabilities and comment on them.
In welcoming my hon. Friend’s assurance that the future of our amphibious capability is under active and positive consideration, may I say, as one who has been privileged to spend a little bit of time on HMS Bulwark, that she is a magnificent fighting ship? She punches well above her weight. She has served this nation very well, and to remove her from service would be an absolute tragedy.
I recognise my hon. Friend’s support, and indeed the support of colleagues from across the House who feel strongly on this matter. We enjoy an amphibious capability; of course, it is not just Albion and Bulwark. Albion is about to step up into the high-readiness role for the next five years and Bulwark will be going into the low-readiness role, but there are also the three Bay class ships and we will be investing in amphibious capability for the Queen Elizabeth class as well.
As the Member of Parliament who represents the dockyard and naval base where Albion and Bulwark are base-ported, may I ask the Minister to speed up this review? There are lots of people who are very concerned about their jobs and the local economy if Albion and Bulwark and the Royal Marines are scrapped?
Once again, the hon. Gentleman seems to be unnecessarily adding fuel to the speculation—indeed, perhaps even scaremongering—among his own constituents, which I do not think is particularly valuable. What I will say is that the review will be completed in a timely manner, but it is important to get it right.
Former Armed Forces Personnel
The Ministry of Defence holds personal information on former armed forces personnel for lawful defence and security purposes. Information is held if the individual is receiving an armed forces occupational pension, has made a claim for compensation, or is being provided with welfare assistance. The MOD is determined to ensure that veterans who require help are provided with appropriate support through the Veterans UK helpline and website, the welfare service and the veterans information service.
The help has not been available to my constituent Mr Joseph Palmer, who has lived in the UK since he was three. He served our country as a regular in the Army between 2008 and 2014, and served in Afghanistan. The only place that holds his records is the MOD, because the immigration and visa service has lost his details and his documents. Will the Minister work with me to ensure that my constituent can remain in and work in the UK?
Will the Minister assure me that medical records of former personnel are accurately passed to general practitioners? It is a long time ago now, but mine were not, and there was no record of my being badly hurt and spending six months in hospital. My general practitioner was amazed.
I am delighted to say that I am very supportive of that. The more information we have to help us understand who veterans are—whether through a veterans identity card; through changing the driving licence so that it has a symbol to show that people are veterans, which we are looking at with the Secretary of State; or, indeed, by showing that on GP records—the more we can support veterans, and that is the direction of travel in which we should go.
Leaving the EU: Defence Spending
Leaving the European Union should not affect our defence spending. Our commitment to European security will continue when we leave. We are committed to meeting the NATO guidelines of spending at least 2% of GDP on defence and to increasing the defence budget by at least 0.5% above inflation in every year of the Parliament. That will enable us to deliver smarter, stronger defence in the face of intensifying threats.
With the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, the pound is in free-fall. What action is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that costs are kept under control for future equipment that must be paid for in US dollars, such as the F-35 and Apache helicopter?
The Government have a strong record of supporting our armed forces and delivering a growing defence budget. Since July, we have led the response to Hurricane Irma, published a new national shipbuilding strategy, supported the defeat of Daesh in Raqqa and continued to lead in NATO. I congratulate all those service personnel and veterans who competed so well in the recent Invictus games.
Growing the supply of engineers is one way in which the Government can support both the armed forces and the defence industry. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what action his Department is taking to support next year’s Year of Engineering to ensure that we inspire the next generation of engineers?
We recruit, train and employ more than 55,000 engineers. We will work as a partner with the Department for Transport on its Year of Engineering 2018 initiative. Each of the single services will play a role in promoting that initiative through science, technology, engineering and maths outreach, helping to deliver a bright future for engineering in the United Kingdom.
May I use this opportunity to put on record what a wonderful job the Red Arrows do for the UK around the world? I congratulate them on the successful 11-country tour from which they have just returned. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Hawk is an important training aircraft for the RAF. We have 75 of them and expect them to last until 2030. We are pursuing a range of export opportunities around the world.
NATO is the cornerstone of our defence. We are leading the battlegroup in Estonia, we have sent troops to Poland and we have sent RAF Typhoons to Romania. By contrast, the Leader of the Opposition does not support collective defence and Young Labour has just voted to withdraw from NATO.
As I mentioned earlier, the covenant is very important. It is a bond between the nation and our armed forces; it makes sure that they are looked after and are not disenfranchised. It is in its infancy and we must remember that it has a long way to go. We look at how the United States, for example, looks after its veterans through practical measures. Our reverence and love are no different, but we have a long way to go practically to give our veterans the respect they deserve.
We will create two additional frontline squadrons from our existing fleet and extend Typhoon in service until 2040. The Typhoon’s capabilities are constantly evolving through initiatives such as Project Centurion. We will also upgrade our Chinook heavy-lift helicopter to extend its life into the 2040s.
There is broad agreement within Northern Ireland that the current systems and structures for dealing with the legacy of the troubles are not delivering enough for victims, survivors and wider society. We are working with the Northern Ireland Office to ensure that investigations are fair and proportionate, and that they focus on terrorists, not the personnel who kept us safe. We think that there should be, and would welcome, further discussions.
I was not directly aware of that point. I meet three or four charities every single week. I will raise that issue, which goes back to my point about veterans receiving the support they deserve. If the hon. Gentleman would like to write to me with more detail, I would be grateful to receive his letter.
I am sure my hon. Friend speaks for the whole House. The military response to Hurricane Irma was swift. RFA Mounts Bay was pre-positioned. At the peak, we had nearly 2,000 troops on the islands, who were deployed very quickly. Through the use of helicopters and other support, they managed to get aid to areas that simply would not have received it had there not been military intervention. I take this opportunity, on behalf of the whole House, to thank the armed forces for their efforts.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, because we have such strong leadership in this area. What I would say is this: it is also important that we show cross-party support for the many export campaigns BAE Systems is involved in around the world. I urge him to do what he can with his leader and the Opposition Front-Bench team to do that.
Given that Typhoon is scheduled to leave service in 2040, what steps is my hon. Friend taking to procure the next generation of fighter aircraft given the potential opportunities for export, and to preserve and maintain our sovereign defence capability?
Again, a very important question. On the support we are giving to Typhoon exports around the world, I was delighted that recently my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was able to sign a statement of intent with Qatar. We will continue with that effort, as well as considering our options on a replacement.
My constituent, Aiden Aslin, has just returned to Newark after fighting with the Kurdish peshmerga and helping to defeat IS in Syria and northern Iraq. He is one of hundreds of British citizens who have done the same. Will my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary note the contribution and bravery of these British citizens but seek strongly to dissuade other young people from taking that extremely dangerous course in future?
I certainly note that. I advise any British citizen wanting to go to fight against Daesh/ISIS that the way to do so is to join our armed forces, and to get the professional training necessary and the respect for international humanitarian law that goes with it.
It is 35 years since HMS Sheffield was sunk in the Falklands war, and my constituents believe it is about time that another Royal Navy ship was named after our great city. Will the Secretary of State ensure that the relevant committee gives full consideration to ensuring that we can enjoy the third HMS Sheffield?
The hon. Lady makes a poignant appeal for another ship to be named HMS Sheffield, and I am sure that her representations will have been heard by the relevant committee. I am pleased we are building so many new ships in this country that we can have all these new names.
Engineers at BAE in Chelmsford were critical in developing the Sampson multi-function radar, the Sea Wolf missile tracking radar and the highly innovative T994 two-dimensional radar. When it comes to the next generation, the ballistic missile defence radar, will the MOD consider employment as well as capability and make sure that these skills stay in Britain?
I agree with what the Secretary of State said about Daesh, but he will know that one thing that separates them from us is that we are bound by the rule of law, specifically rules of engagement. Will he confirm that our conduct will always be bound by the Geneva convention?
The Secretary of State’s own permanent secretary said last Tuesday to the Defence Committee, on the subject of the F-35 programme:
“We will not be in a position to be able to give a precise view as to what the whole of this very complicated programme will be until 2035”.
Does that not put paid to the Secretary of State’s incredible claim that eight Type 26 frigates would provide work on the Clyde till 2035?
It is now more than four months since the general election, but still the Liaison Committee cannot meet formally to carry out its functions on behalf of the House. Will you assist us, Mr Speaker, because I am afraid that repeated representations from across the House by Select Committee Chairs are not yet making a difference in ensuring that all Select Committees are properly constituted?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. It is absurd and indefensible that more than four months after the state opening of Parliament, that Committee, which, of course, consists of the Chairs of the Select Committees, has yet to be constituted. I might add—almost in parentheses, because I am sure that the hon. Lady will feel empathy with other colleagues on this front—that the same situation, I think, applies to the European Scrutiny Committee, and also to another Committee which is not a Select Committee but which is a Committee of Parliament, and a very important Committee at that, namely the Intelligence and Security Committee. Those Committees are there to scrutinise the Executive branch.
I discussed this important matter in a most co-operative exchange with the Leader of the House at the start of the summer recess, and I know that she used her best endeavours, with others, to ensure the constitution of many of the Select Committees some little while ago. However, the fact that the remaining Committees are as yet unconstituted is simply not acceptable.
It would obviously be most unfortunate if it were necessary for Members to keep raising points of order day after day after day after day before those Committees were established, and, as I am sure the whole House would want to avoid such an embarrassing fate, I can only assume that proper action will now follow. However, the hon. Lady is always attentive to her responsibilities, and I am certain that, in the grisly event that it is necessary for her to raise a further point of order, she will not hesitate to do so.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on last week’s European Council.
Long after we have left the European Union, the UK will continue to be a strong and committed partner, standing alongside our neighbours and working with them to advance our shared values and interests. This Council provided a further opportunity to demonstrate that ongoing commitment, through discussions that included migration, the digital single market, Turkey, North Korea and Iran, and it made important progress in moving towards the new, deep and special partnership with the European Union that we want to see.
On migration, the UK is playing its full part. The Royal Navy has intercepted 172 smuggling boats and saved more than 12,000 lives since Operation Sophia began. Our National Crime Agency is working with Libyan law enforcement, enhancing its capability to tackle the people-smuggling and trafficking networks. At the Council, we welcomed the reduction in migrant crossings and the renewed momentum behind the Libyan political process; but we must also continue to address the root causes driving people across the Sahara and the Mediterranean, so the UK is also continuing to invest for the long term in education, jobs and services, both in countries of origin and countries of transit.
On the digital single market, it is right to keep up the pressure on completing its implementation by the end of 2018. That will continue to benefit us even after we have left the European Union. At the Council, I also argued that the free flow of data was key to unlocking the potential of Europe’s digital trade, and we secured conclusions which recognised that. As the Government set out in a paper over the summer, such arrangements will be an important part of the future relationship between the UK and the EU.
Let me now turn to the discussions on Turkey. We share concerns over the arrests of EU nationals and others defending human rights. I raised that personally with President Erdogan when we met at the UN General Assembly, and we are publicly calling on Turkey to protect freedom of expression and to release those defending human rights. At the same time, I believe that we must take a long-term view of the enduring importance of our relationship with Turkey, which is a vital partner in ensuring a secure and prosperous European neighbourhood. We must also continue to recognise the challenges to which it is responding, not least the military coup that it faced only 16 months ago.
We must continue to work with Turkey as our ally and partner, particularly as we respond to the shared challenges of terrorism, migration and instability in the middle east. In so doing, however, we must do all that we can to convince Turkey that it must demonstrate its commitment to human rights and the rule of law. To turn away from Turkey now would undermine those who seek to secure a European future based on our shared values.
On North Korea, we welcomed the EU sanctions that were adopted last week, and reaffirmed our clear condemnation of North Korea’s aggressive and illegal missile and nuclear tests. We urged all states, including China, to play their part in changing the course that Pyongyang is taking. As for Iran, the Council built on the joint statement made by Chancellor Merkel, President Macron and myself last week, reiterating its firm commitment to the nuclear deal. The deal was the culmination of 13 years of diplomacy and is a major step towards ensuring that Iran’s nuclear programme is not diverted for military purposes, which is vitally important for our shared security. We are continuing to work particularly closely with our French and German allies on that crucial issue.
Turning to our negotiations to leave the European Union, I shared the vision I set out in Florence for a creative and pragmatic approach to a new, deep and special partnership between the United Kingdom and the European Union: a partnership based on the fundamental beliefs we share—in democracy and the rule of law, but also in free trade, rigorous and fair competition, strong consumer rights, and high regulatory standards. I have also been clear that the United Kingdom is unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security. Both sides have approached these talks with professionalism and in a constructive spirit, and we should recognise what has been achieved to date.
On citizens’ rights, both sides share the same objective of safeguarding the rights of EU nationals living in the UK and of UK nationals living in the EU. This has been my first priority from the very beginning of the negotiations, and it remains so. The negotiations are complicated and deeply technical, but in the end they are about people, and I am determined that we will put people first. EU citizens make an extraordinary contribution to our national life and we want them to stay. I know that EU member states also value the UK nationals living in their communities, and I want them to have their rights protected, too. We are united on the key principles, and while there are a small number of issues that remain outstanding, we are in touching distance of a deal.
This agreement will provide certainty about residence, healthcare, pensions and other benefits. It will mean that EU citizens who have paid into the UK system, and UK nationals who have paid into the system of an EU27 country, can benefit from what they have put in. It will enable families who have built their lives together to stay together, and it will provide guarantees that the rights of those UK nationals currently living in the EU, and EU citizens currently living in the UK, will not diverge over time.
We will also ensure that the implementation of the agreement we reach does not create complicated and bureaucratic hurdles. For example, I have said that applying for settled status will cost no more than a UK passport, and that people applying will no longer have to demonstrate comprehensive sickness insurance. We will also do everything possible to work closely with EU member states to ensure that their processes are equally streamlined for British nationals living in their countries.
We have also made significant progress on Northern Ireland, where it is absolutely imperative that joint work on the peace process is not affected in any way. The Belfast agreement must be at the heart of our approach, and we have clearly agreed that the unique circumstances across the whole of the island of Ireland will require specific solutions. There will not be any physical infrastructure at the border, and we have also developed joint principles to ensure the continuation of the common travel area. These principles will fully preserve the rights of UK and Irish nationals to live, work and study across these islands, and protect the associated rights to public services and social security.
This Council provided an opportunity to assess, and reflect on, how to make further progress in the negotiations. My speech in Florence made two important steps which have added a new impetus. First, I gave two clear commitments on the financial settlement: that the UK will honour commitments we have made during the period of our membership; and that none of our EU partners should fear they will need to pay more or receive less over the remainder of the current budget plan as a result of our decision to leave. As the House would expect, we are going through our potential commitments line by line, and that detailed work continues. Secondly, I proposed a time-limited implementation period based on current terms, which is in the interest of both the UK and the EU.
At this Council, the 27 member states responded by agreeing to start their preparations for moving negotiations on to trade and the future relationship we want to see. The Council conclusions call for work to continue with a view to being able to move to the second phase of the negotiations as soon as possible, and President Tusk in his press conference was clear that the EU’s internal work
“will take account of proposals presented”
in the Florence speech, and, indeed, that this agreement to start preparatory discussions would not be possible without the new momentum given by that speech.
So I am ambitious and positive about Britain’s future and these negotiations. If we are going to take a step forward together, it must be on the basis of joint effort and endeavour between the UK and the EU, but I believe that by approaching these negotiations in a constructive way—in a spirit of friendship and co-operation —we can and will deliver the best possible outcome that works for all our people, and that belief was shared by other European leaders.
We are going to leave the European Union in March 2019, delivering on the democratic will of the British people. Of course, we are preparing for every eventuality to ensure we leave in a smooth and orderly way, but I am confident that we will be able to negotiate a new, deep and special partnership between a sovereign United Kingdom and our friends in the European Union. That is my mission, that is this Government’s mission, and I commend this statement to the House.
I would like to thank the Prime Minister for giving me an advance copy of this statement. I too want to underline the importance of respect for human rights and democracy in Turkey, and say to the Government of Turkey that imprisoning journalists and lawyers is not part of that process and is not acceptable. Also, we need to defend the Iran nuclear deal, which was rightly defended at the EU Council last week. We must all do everything we can to defend it and to prevent the proliferation of any nuclear weapons.
I also commend the service of the Royal Navy in Operation Sophia which, as the Prime Minister pointed out, has already saved thousands of lives.
In relation to Libya, nothing is more pressing than securing a viable long-term peaceful settlement to that country’s problems. Given the language used by her Foreign Secretary on this matter, the Prime Minister might need to take the lead on this, just as she has had to take over the lead from her Brexit Secretary on negotiations with the EU.
I am beginning to feel a worrying sense of groundhog day every time the Prime Minister gives us an update on the progress of negotiations. Only two weeks ago, she told the House that her speech in Florence had put momentum into the article 50 negotiations and that an agreement on phase 1 of the talks was within touching distance. Well, here we are again, after another round of talks, and we are still no clearer as to when negotiations on Britain’s future with our largest trading partner will actually begin, and still no clearer as to what exactly she has agreed to in phase 1 of the talks.
In what are the most crucial negotiations in our country’s recent history, we are clearly stuck in an impasse. There has been no real progress abroad, and no progress at home, especially given the fact that the Prime Minister’s European Union (Withdrawal) Bill has been delayed, presumably to allow the Government Whips to pull together the splits in her own party. Maybe she can shed some light on all this confusion, which has only been escalated by members of her own Government. For instance, the Home Secretary says that no deal with the EU would be “unthinkable”. The Brexit Secretary still maintains that no deal must be an option, while the Secretary of State for International Trade says that leaving without a deal
“would not be the Armageddon that people project”.
Does the Prime Minister believe that an outcome that is not Armageddon might be setting the bar a bit too low?
The Prime Minister will also be aware that leaders of every major business organisation have written to her today urging her to provide clarity, and quickly. Across the UK, businesses in every region and nation are clear that they need a transition deal with the EU to be put in place as soon as possible so that they can take investment decisions in order to protect jobs and investment in this country. I know that the Prime Minister has talked about the need for an implementation period after we leave the EU, but she has not been clear about the terms and conditions involved. Can she tell us now what she means by accepting the same basic conditions in an implementation period? Surely this can only mean remaining within the single market and the customs union for the transition period, as Labour has made clear.
On EU citizens’ rights, the Prime Minister says, again, that an agreement is in reach. Can she tell us when the detail of that agreement will be ready to bring to the House and, more importantly, to show to all those people in this country and in the EU who are desperate to know what their future holds? That could have been dealt with 16 months ago. Instead, families are suffering anxiety, and some EU citizens are deciding to leave, including nurses from our national health service. If that had been resolved, as it should have been, hundreds of thousands of British nationals would also have the security that they need. Will the Prime Minister tell us what will happen to this specific agreement on citizens’ rights if her Government fail to secure a final Brexit deal with the EU? Will the Prime Minister now do the right thing and guarantee the rights of citizens living in the UK, regardless of the outcome of the article 50 negotiations?
On the financial settlement, clearly some within the European Union need to stop briefing astronomical and unacceptable numbers, but will the Prime Minister confirm the reports that she privately assured European leaders that Britain would pay more than the offer she made in her Florence speech? If that is the case, is she confident that it would pass the red lines set out by the Foreign Secretary a few weeks ago? The Prime Minister hails the progress that she has made so far in these negotiations. The biggest battle that she faces is not so much with the other 27 European states the Chancellor so deftly described as “the enemy”, but her battle to bring together the warring factions in her own Cabinet and party. The Prime Minister is too weak to do anything about it. The outcome of crashing out with no deal to become a deregulated tax haven—the dream of a powerful faction on her Back Benches and Front Bench—would be a nightmare for people’s jobs and living standards. Labour’s message is different and clear: only Labour can negotiate a Brexit and deliver an economy—[Interruption.]
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s comments on the Iran nuclear deal. It is important that we agree across the House that we should continue to support that deal. I also agree that what we of course want to see in Libya is a peaceful settlement that can enable that country to be stable and peaceful into the future. It is important that we all support the work that is being done by UN Special Envoy Salamé on this particular issue.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the Brexit bill. What I set out to the European Council was what I set out in my Florence speech and what I have just repeated in my statement. He talked about us making no real progress. But:
“We haven’t reached a final agreement, but it’s going to happen.”
“I’d have a degree of confidence that we’ll be able to get to the point of sufficient progress by December.”
After the Florence speech, it was said
“there is a new momentum.”
And the Florence speech was “a step forward”. There
“should be a positive response to the willingness to work on the interim period”.
“There has been established a momentum.”
As it happens, those are not my words; they are the words of Chancellor Merkel, the Taoiseach, the Swedish Prime Minister, the Italian Prime Minister, the Polish Prime Minister and the Danish Prime Minister respectively, so I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that progress was indeed made. The Labour party talks about the need to move ahead in the negotiations. If Labour thinks it is so important, why did Labour MEPs vote against moving ahead in the negotiations?
The Leader of the Opposition talks about the withdrawal Bill as if it is something that Labour is very eager to see before the House. If it is so eager, why did it vote against the Bill on Second Reading and, in doing so, vote against bringing workers’ rights and environmental standards into UK law?
Finally, the Leader of the Opposition spent a long time talking about no deal. Well, I can only assume that the Labour party wants to talk about no deal because it simply does not know what sort of deal it wants. It cannot decide whether it wants to be in the single market or not. It cannot decide whether it wants to be in the customs union or not. It cannot decide whether it wants a second referendum or not. It cannot decide whether it agrees with the continuation of free movement or not. And, worst of all, it says it would take any deal, whatever price it is asked to pay. That is not the way to get a good deal for the UK; it is the way to get the worst possible deal for the UK.
Is it not clear that damaging delay will be caused if we do not make progress soon? The main problem is that other European leaders can see that a noisy minority in the Cabinet and on the Back Benches of the Prime Minister’s own party have persuaded themselves that no deal at all is completely desirable, which causes European leaders to doubt whether she is able to produce a clear picture of where she eventually wants to go and whether she is able to produce a majority here for any agreement they have with her.
Has the Prime Minister considered appointing some trusted Minister—she may have already done so—to make approaches to leading Opposition Members to see whether they will live up to some of the things the Leader of the Opposition appears to say, and perhaps to do better, so that we can have consensus in this Parliament, in the national interest, at least on the outline of a transitional deal that will enable us to negotiate final details and arrangements that the majority of this House could agree are in the long-term interests of the United Kingdom?
That sounds rather like a job application.
It is clear from my interaction with European leaders that they recognise that the vision I set out in the Florence speech—for a deep and special partnership for the future, and also for an implementation period—did bring clarity on the thinking of the United Kingdom. The 27 have agreed that it is now for them to consider what they want to see from the future of that relationship so that the next stage of negotiations can begin.
I thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of her statement.
I welcome some of the conclusions from the Council summit, particularly on migration and the stronger commitment on resettlement. The Scottish National party also welcomes the united approach on sanctions against North Korea and fully endorses the EU’s call for North Korea to
“abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs”.
However, it is of deep concern that the ongoing crisis in Catalonia was not covered. EU citizens were brutally thrown to the floor while exercising their right to vote, and a Parliament was stripped of its constitutional status. What representations did the Prime Minister make to address that democratic outrage?
Last week, the EU27 voted unanimously to declare that there had not yet been sufficient progress on leaving the EU. It is clear that the negotiation sticking points are the same as before—the financial settlement, EU citizens’ rights and the Irish border. Jean-Claude Juncker made a poignant remark:
“nobody explained in the first place to the British people what Brexit actually meant.”
How true, and no wonder this Government are in such a mess.
Today, the UK’s five biggest business lobby groups have called for an urgent transition deal. Time is running out for the business community, and financial institutions are already giving notice or leaving London. Ireland has clinched deals with more than a dozen London-based banks to move operations from London. Ernst & Young has warned that 83,000 City jobs could be lost if the UK loses its euro-denominated clearing rights. Businesses need certainty, and we need to know the details of our future trading relationship and any transition deal before the end of the year. It is absolutely critical that we stay in the single market and the customs union. Will the Prime Minister end her Government’s catastrophic ideological flirtation with a no-deal scenario? Take this off the table and do it today.
First, may I say to the right hon. Gentleman that I have spoken to Prime Minister Rajoy on the issue of Catalonia on a number of occasions, including when I saw him at the European Council? We are absolutely clear that the referendum had no legal basis. We want to see people upholding the rule of law and upholding the Spanish constitution.
On the wider issue the right hon. Gentleman talks about—the future relationship of the United Kingdom with the European Union—I have set out the vision we have for that. As I have just said in answer to the Leader of the Opposition, the EU27 will now be looking at their vision for this. I am sorry to have to repeat again to the right hon. Gentleman, because he has raised this issue in the past, that full membership of the single market and of the customs union go with the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and freedom of movement, and they were issues that were voted against when people voted to leave the European Union. They would effectively mean that we would remain in the European Union, and we are going to leave in March 2019.
May I say to my right hon. Friend that she may wish to answer some of those who want certainty by reminding them that you cannot have agreement on an implementation period until you have something to implement? That is first and foremost. Secondly, during the course of her private discussions, —the ones that the acting President of the European Union, Martin Selmayr, has not put into the papers—did she remind her colleagues in the European Union that to reach a proper free trade arrangement they will need to have concluded those discussions before the summer of next year, otherwise it will be difficult to get things through in time, both in the European Union and here? Did she get an answer, therefore, about when they might like to start?
I thank my right hon. Friend, because he is absolutely right; as we have said on a number of occasions, the point of the implementation period is to put in place the practical changes necessary to move to the future partnership, and in order to have that you need to know what that future partnership is going to be. Obviously, in my discussions with other leaders I have raised the issue of the timetable we have, and of course the ultimate timetable that was set by the Lisbon treaty. He talks about knowing the details of the trade deal by next summer. Of course Michel Barnier himself has suggested that October 2018 might be the point at which it would be necessary to know that, but my right hon. Friend is absolutely right that of course there will need to be a period of time for ratification of any future arrangements by the various national Parliaments—and, as we know, this can be more than one in some of the countries concerned.
Can the Prime Minister explain why it is frequently said by those with whom we are negotiating that they do not know what the UK wants when it comes to a long-term deal? Does she think this has anything to do with the fact that the Cabinet appears not to have reached its own view yet about what the nature of that deal is going to be?
This is a negotiation and there will be different levels of detail at different stages of the negotiation. I have set out the vision for our future partnership and, as I have said in response to a number of remarks now, what happened at this European Council was that the EU27 agreed that they will now start the work of preparing their vision of what that future partnership will be, so that when we come to open those trade negotiations formally both sides have got that agenda and clearly know what those negotiations will cover.
Given business’s understandable wish to deal with uncertainty, does the Prime Minister agree that the best course for a business that trades with Europe would be to prepare for a smooth transition to World Trade Organisation terms, which the Government can and will guarantee unilaterally, but to expect the Prime Minister to have good luck in bringing back something better?
It is absolutely right and important that business prepares for a smooth and orderly move to the future relationship we have. That is why I have proposed an implementation period, which I believe is in the interests of businesses not only in the United Kingdom but in the European Union. As my right hon. Friend says, we are working to get the good deal that will also be not just in our interests but in the interests of the EU27.
Further to the Prime Minister’s answer to the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said last week that
“a transition phase will be triggered only once we have completed the deal itself”—[Official Report, 17 October 2017; Vol. 629, c. 741.]
I understand that the Prime Minister’s spokesperson said today that an implementation period is
“a bridge to where you are heading. You need to know where you are heading.”
Will the Prime Minister clarify whether she is saying that if we have not agreed a long-term trade deal by this time next year, there will be no transition deal at all and Britain will end up on WTO terms by March 2019?
As I just said in my response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), an implementation period is about a period of adjustment to the future relationship. That is the basis on which I have put it forward to the European Union, and that is the basis on which we will be negotiating an agreement on it.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is a potential bear trap if the European Court is directly involved in any implementation period? Its case law asserts its supremacy over our Parliament and our courts, and includes a commitment to the charter of fundamental rights and political integration.
As my hon. Friend knows, I have been clear that one of the intentions of people who voted for the UK to leave the EU was to ensure that in future the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice no longer covered the United Kingdom. We will of course have to negotiate the basis of the implementation period. If we are going to ensure that we have the greatest possible certainty for business during that period, it will be necessary for us to see as little change during that period as is commensurate with that certainty for business. Indeed, one of the purposes of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is to bring the EU acquis—the EU law—into UK law to give that certainty to businesses and individuals here.
Until recently, the British Government were leading the negotiations to create a digital single market in Europe that would benefit creative industries. The Prime Minister said in her statement that it is right to aim for the completion of the digital single market by 2018, but will she explain how she expects to be taken seriously when she is in the process of trying to leave it?
The United Kingdom continues to lead in the debate on the creation of the digital single market. We believe that it is important for the EU27 and it is important for the UK in or out of the European Union. We will therefore continue to encourage the completion of the digital single market while we are members of the European Union. It will be important for us, once we have left the EU, that that digital single market has been created. We will forge a new relationship and partnership with it.
I commend the Prime Minister’s statement and the progress she has made in the EU negotiations. As we have heard, representatives of British businesses of all sizes and from all sectors have today written to the Government to warn of the consequences of no deal and relying on WTO rules. They said:
“The Government should give certainty to business by immediately ruling this option out under any circumstances.”
Will the Prime Minister agree to listen to British businesses, and will she even go so far today as finally to rule out no deal?
We have of course been engaging with and listening to business. I was clear that the implementation period was something that business was very keen on having to ensure that businesses had that smooth and orderly process of withdrawal, but we are in a negotiation with the EU27, and it is important to remember as part of that negotiation that we want to get a good deal for the United Kingdom, but the best way to get a bad deal for the UK is to say that we will accept anything that they give us, regardless. We have to be clear that we are working for a good deal, and I am optimistic about that because we have made some progress and I believe that the good deal we are seeking is in the interests of both sides.
Is it not the case that the business community will be shocked to hear the Prime Minister’s words today, which seem to suggest that there will be no clarity on transition or implementation until we get a final deal in some number of months—or possibly longer—ahead? The business community wants to know that the cliff edge will not be there in March 2019. Will she not give a commitment now to treat attaining a transitional arrangement separately from trying to get a final deal?
I set out in my Florence speech the concept of the implementation period, and, of course, we have to discuss that with the EU27. I am confident that we will get a good deal precisely because getting a good deal is not just in our interests, but in the interests of the EU27 of the remaining European Union. That is what we are working for, and that is what our effort is going into.
May I commend the Prime Minister’s approach based on the Florence speech, which is entirely sensible, pragmatic and moderate? Given that we are being entirely open about our negotiating tactics, which is that no European nation, or indeed any European citizens, should be worse off, may I encourage her to be more transparent and open with Parliament on the figures? I know that the reserve position of Whitehall is that Parliament is a nuisance, but what else was Brexit about except reviving parliamentary democracy? We still have no idea what we have offered or what is being demanded. We could do with some more information because, ultimately, there will be a vote on this in the House and that will be a vote that counts.
Of course we have said that there will be a vote on the deal in this House and we expect that vote to take place before the European Parliament votes on the deal. I have also said—I said this in my Lancaster House speech in January—that when we are able to make information available, we will do so. As my hon. Friend and others may recall, I also said that we will not give a running commentary on the details of the negotiations. We must not put this country in a position where we set out publicly everything that we are looking for in these negotiations, because that just hands the cards to the other side. This is a negotiation, and both sides will have to move on it.
Given the report from the business groups today calling for transition, and the lust for the cliff edge being displayed by some on the Prime Minister’s Back Benches, will she perhaps introduce some facts? Will she list any major economies in the world that trade with the EU on the basis of WTO rules alone, with no sectoral or other agreements in place?
The premise of the right hon. Gentleman’s question is false. He seems to be suggesting that the purpose of the Government’s negotiations is to, somehow, engineer a no-deal scenario; it is not. In terms of our future relationship with the European Union, we are working towards a deal and a good, deep and special partnership that covers both trade and security.
May I follow that up? The tenor of the Prime Minister’s negotiations last week and of her statement in the House today is very much, as she says, to seek a creative and pragmatic approach to a new, deep and special partnership. “Partnership” is the key word, is it not, because no partnership would be possible without dialogue within this House, with our European neighbours, with our fellow member states and within the Cabinet? Will she assure us that those talks will continue and that she will not listen to those, unfortunately sometimes on these Benches, who want talks to stop and us to go on to WTO rules?
I can assure my right hon. Friend that the negotiations are continuing. As I have said, we want to ensure, as we are doing, that we work towards getting a good deal. The purpose of my Florence speech was to set out a vision for that deep and special partnership in the future, and it is that partnership that the Government are working towards.
There has been much talk today of the time-limited implementation period that the Prime Minister referred to in her Florence speech. Others have referred to it as a transitional deal. Has there been any discussion with the EU27 as to what the legal basis of such a transitional period would be? Would it be article 50 or something else?
On the matter of North Korea, the Select Committee on Defence recently took evidence from a group of academics who argued that North Korea may already have an ability to reach the United Kingdom with a thermonuclear weapon. If that is true, does the Prime Minister agree that it would be the utmost folly to abandon our independent nuclear deterrent?